In this article, I compare different livestock – Start-up costs, Continuation costs, Profits, and Contradictions.
I was not raised on a farm but when we purchased 20 acres I knew that we needed to put the land to good use. Thankfully, I have a husband who is almost as adventurous as I am so we jumped into the farm and homesteading life with both feet. God was gracious and we landed well- not very gracefully but we are surviving and even thriving in most areas!
This article will compare the different animals that we have tried to raise on our plot of Heaven on Earth, as well as the costs involved. Remember that we have only been farming for 15 years and our experiences may vary from yours. I am hoping that you will learn from our mistakes and gain some insight from our situation.
These are the animals with which we have had experiences:
Horses , Cows, Chickens – Layers, Chickens – Meat, Goose, Ducks, Rabbits (meat), Sheep, Goats – Dairy.
We started with horses. Yep, hay burners. (For those of you who have never had these gentle giants on your property, they are called “Hay Burners” because unless you are using them for transportation, plowing, or enjoyment, then they really don’t do much except eat hay and poop.)
Although we hadn’t thought about having equine on the farm, my daughter had been praying for a free horse for several years and God heard and answered her prayers. Not only did she get a free horse, but it came with free feed and free tack and a free saddle. Who were we to turn down all that free stuff? For those who have or have had horses, you know that as soon as you get a free horse, the expenses begin.
Horses can be picky regarding the hay they eat. Right now in the mid-west, good hay costs around $8-10 a square bale. Horses also need a salt block and a mineral block. These run about $7 each at our local farm store.
Not-so-funny story about needing a salt block… Our second free horse (because horses are herd animals and we didn’t want the first one to be lonely J) was under the weather so we called the vet who came right out and determined he was dehydrated. After sedating him and shoving a gastric tube into his stomach, and filling his gut with electrolytes, I learned the importance of a $5 salt block as compared to a farm call vet bill ($160).
There is also the need for a farrier for their hooves, if you can find one in your area. In our area, they charge an average of $50 per horse (not including shoeing) and the visits are generally every 8 weeks.
And then, since horses don’t live forever, you need to consider the matter of burial. With our other (smaller) livestock we are able to transport their carcasses to the back corner of our property. No, we do not bury them or cover them with lime. We simply allow nature to take its course. And the area is far enough from where our animals are kept so we have not had a problem with scavengers coming closer for a buffet meal.
So what did we do with our deceased horses? We hired an acquaintance that brought his backhoe and buried them. This cost us $150. A lot of money for a hay burner, but we enjoyed riding them and just watching them graze lazily in the pasture.
PROS of Horses:
1. Enjoyment of riding
2. Transportation unaffected by EMP
CONS of Horses:
1. Costly to keep and properly maintain
2. Shelter needed during inclement weather
Our next choice of livestock that we purchased was beef cattle- two jersey bull calves to be specific. They were from a dairy farmer who has no use for the males. We had books on raising cows and I had read plenty of articles- how hard could it be? I soon found out. Because they were only 3 days old, they needed to be bottle-fed. I mixed up the milk replacer according to the directions (or so I thought) and it came out thick like pancake batter! I felt sure I was going to kill them that first night. I called a friend (Also called my cow mentor) and he set me straight on the milk replacer mix. Then for kicks he asked me if I knew how to burp them… we are still friends.
The cost of calves varies greatly from breed to locale to year to time of year. Several years ago a one-day-old Holstein bull calf was selling for $650! But normally they sell for anywhere from $100- $250. Some specialty calves (Angus, for instance) can easily go for $1,000 and higher.
Milk replacer has increased in cost. A 50# bag costs $100 and it takes 1 ½ bags per calf, so total $150 per calf, until they are weaned and on grass/grain.
Feeding cows is a bit easier and cheaper than feeding horses. Cows are less picky regarding hay and I also feed mine a bit of grain (All Stock) every day. A 50# bag costs me $13 and lasts about a month – 1 bag per cow per month. The cows go through hay quickly, especially if you just throw it on the ground. They like to lie in and on the hay, which means they also poop in it and ruin a lot. So to keep from wasting the hay, I place it in a rack or trough.
With only a few exceptions, we now raise Holstein steers and have them for 18-22 months before their trip to the butcher. The local processor charges $100 kill fee, then 75 cents per pound for processing. This comes out to approximately $450 per steer. Then we sell it for $7/lb.
PROS OF COWS-
1. Knowing what’s in your meat
2. Nice profit when you sell the beef
CONS of Cows-
1. Initial high cost for first 3 months
2. Unless you do your own processing, you will need a trailer and a way to pull it to the butcher.
3. Larger area needed per animal
After years of discussion, my husband finally agreed to allow chickens on the farm. He was concerned about the smell, but placement and cleanliness of the coop has eliminated that problem before it arose. I purchased a well-built coop that was made for 12 hens for $400. I started with 5 hens at $10 each. A bag of poultry feed costs $12 for 50# that will last 5 hens one month. And I get an average of one dozen eggs/week (4+ dozen eggs a month). Farm fresh eggs in my area are selling for at least $3/ dozen. This averages out to $12 a month so it covers the cost of the feed.
But if you ask anyone with chickens and they will tell you that you can never have too many chickens!
PROS OF CHICKENS (LAYER)
1. Fresh eggs daily
2. Relative low start up costs
3. Smaller area for set up
CONS OF CHICKEN (LAYERS)
1. Some locales may not permit chickens
2. Smelly coop if not kept clean
3. Permit may be needed to sell eggs
I truly enjoy raising meat chickens. I finally found a brooding box (brooder) for the chicks that can be easily made with basic tools and little funds (under $50). I also bought a chicken tractor for when the chicks have grown out their feathers until it is time to process them. This piece of equipment is nice and useful but not necessary. It cost me $250 and I have used it for 5+ years.
(I choose to raise Cornish Cross because of the short turn-around period from birth to butcher. They say it is best to butcher them at 8 weeks because they have a tendency to become overweight and develop leg and heart problems that can cause them to die prematurely. But I have found that if I use my chicken tractor and additional fencing and allow them to free-range, I can wait until 10-12 weeks to butcher, thus getting bigger chickens.)
A word on chicken pluckers: I didn’t have one for several years so I would skin the bird when processing instead of plucking. My hubby bought me one for my birthday one year and it makes processing go faster.
The Cornish Cross Breed sells for $3 a bird at our local farm store, and a bag of chick feed is $15, which I generally need 4 for the lifetime of 20 chickens. So the cost this year of raising meat chickens is $6 / per 6 pounds of dressed chicken.
PROS OF CHICKENS (MEAT)
1. Superior meat flavor
2. Small amount of equipment needed
CONS OF CHICKENS (MEAT)
1. Must be able to process the birds yourself or you lose your profits
2. Some locales may not permit chickens
Geese disclaimer: we only have had one goose so our experience with this foul is limited.
I agreed to take a guard goose off of a friend’s hands. Goose’s job was to protect my chickens which he did for several months. Then he became aggressive toward some humans. Did you know that geese have very sharp teeth? Although he was free and it doesn’t cost a dime to feed him, I would not recommend raising geese. In fact, one more attack from him and he will be a guest on my dinner table!
PROS OF GEESE-
1. Excellent predator alert system
CONS OF GEESE-
1. Can change from a guard goose to an attack goose without notice
Duck disclaimer- Our experience with ducks has also been limited.
We had ducks for several years. Ducks cost $6 at our farm store and poultry feed is $12 for 50# bag. They are a wonderful source of eggs (which we used to barter for local honey). An interesting tidbit…People who are allergic to chicken eggs can often eat duck eggs without problems- (Always check with your physician before attempting this.) Unless you have a pond or natural water source, I would advise against raising ducks.
PROS OF DUCKS-
1. Excellent source of eggs
CONS OF DUCKS-
1. Need water source
RABBITS – MEAT
The cost of purchasing rabbits for meat varies according to locale, demand, and breed. Here in our area, they start around $10 and can be as high at $40 a head. Rabbit feed is cheap- about $15 for a 25# bag- compared to the amount they nibble (about 8 ounces a day)-. Since we have 4 does and 2 bucks, we have a frame built for our 6 cages instead of a hutch. A new cage can cost $50 and a new hutch for 1-2 rabbits costs approximately $125. I suggest checking the internet for used equipment.
Rabbits can have multiple litters in a year with an average of 3 kits per litter, so selling the kits can be profitable. If you decide to process your rabbits, very little equipment is needed.
PROS OF RABBITS (MEAT)
1. Quiet animals
2. Only small space needed
3. Free garden fertilizer
4. Easy to process
5. Rabbit meat is very easy to digest
CONS OF RABBITS (MEAT)
1. They poop a lot
We started raising sheep about 6 years ago when gas prices were soaring and we didn’t want to mow the back fields. So we purchased 5 Suffolk ewes and were very pleased with their ability to keep the weeds at bay. Then we rented a ram and were blessed enough to have a very successful lambing season, although we knew very little about the process. Selling the lambs for herd starters or meat or 4H’ers is very profitable, with lamb prices starting around $150-to-$350/ head.
Sheep are low maintenance: we provide shelter if they desire to get in from the wind, and fresh water. Some sheep need to be sheared at least once a year, if not twice. We have hair sheep (Katahdin) and are self-shedding every spring. Sheep hooves need to be trimmed every few months and if you can’t flip a sheep, you will need to hire it done.
Our sheep eat mostly grass and hay, but come in every morning and evening for a small bit of grain. $13/ 50# bag lasts several months. We feed this way to briefly check out the health of the livestock.
PROS OF SHEEP
1. Quiet , docile animals
2. Don’t test the fences
3. Low Maintenance re: shelter, food, and water
4. Good grazers (from the grass to about 18” up)
CONS OF SHEEP
- Hooves must be trimmed, sometimes monthly
We purchased our first dairy goat 3 years ago because we eat a lot of yogurt and cheese, in addition to drinking milk. And if TEOTWAWKI happens, I wanted to have a milk source! I have French Alpine and I enjoy the breed. Does can cost around $150 with proven rams going much higher. We rent rams that service our ladies, with the rental fee generally being 20% of their value. There have been as many as 9 goats after a successful kidding season on our small farm. Kids are more resilient than lambs and the does seem to have an easier time with labor and delivery.
We feed our goats the same as our sheep; they browse all day and get a small amount of grain in morning and evening. When they are in milk, they get much more grain- generally 2 cups with each milking. Their grain is the same as the rest of our large livestock: All Stock and it runs $13/ 50# bag.
Milking stands are nice but not necessary. The internet has many plans that only cost $50 in lumber.
PROS OF GOATS (Dairy)
1. Free milk!
2. Hardy animals
3. Good browsers (from about 18’’ and up)
CONS OF GOATS (Dairy)
1. Hooves need to be trimmed at least once a month
2. Fence testers (The thinking regarding fencing for goats: If you throw a pail of water at the fence and some gets through, then it ain’t goat-proof!)
3. Goats need/want shelter from the wind and rain.
[JWR Adds: Beware that goats are naturally browsers rather than grazers, so they will decimate any bushes, shrubs, saplings, and small trees before they start eating grass.]
There you have it – a history of our livestock journey and the pros and cons of each. Hopefully the foregoing will assist you in your decision-making when it comes to having animals on your property- whether city or rural.